Following on their presentation of December 4, Northampton’s Best Practices Committee discussed its process and its draft recommendations with the City Council on 12/18/08. This was followed by a Best Practices public forum on 1/5/09. Both events took place in City Council Chambers. Here is a Google video (3 hours 19 minutes) of most of the City Council meeting as recorded by Lachlan Ziegler. There is a short gap for camera changeover at 1 hour 53 minutes and a few minutes are missing from the end of the meeting. (The councilors’ capacity to meet exceeded our capacity to record them–an additional camera has been ordered.)
Selected highlights of the meeting:
0:00:16-0:03:57… Remarks made in public comment period by Gene Tacy (see related article on Northampton Redoubt)
1:15:28-1:33:04… Dialogue between members of the Best Practices Committee and the City Council
1:55:32-3:19:26 (End of Video)… Discussion of recommendations by the Community Preservation Committee
Here is a Google video of the 1/5 Best Practices public forum on its draft recommendations. This video is 2 hours 7 minutes long and was recorded by Ken Mitchell and Adam Cohen. It is also available on Vimeo video.
1:55:30-2:01:16… Ken Mitchell criticizes the process that produced the Smith College Educational Use Overlay District. Should the Mayor chair City Council meetings? Responses from committee members.
Here are the minutes from the forum:
MINUTES (pending approval)
Record of the Public Hearing by the Ad-Hoc Committee on Best Practices of Jan. 5,
2009. The meeting was held in the City Council Chambers and was taped by NCTV for
later cable broadcast.
The meeting began at 7 PM.
Present were committee members Michael Bardsley, Alex Ghiselin, Jim Palermo, David
Narkewicz and Bob Reckman. Lisa DePiano and Wendy Foxmyn were not present.
Members of the public were Diane Welter, Jesse Adams, Daryl LaFleur, Ken Mitchell,
John Sinton, Jesus Leyva, Mary Sereze, David Reckhow and the NCTV crew. Ken
Mitchell taped the meeting for future video cast. Michael kept notes of the suggestions
on newsprint pages.
Jim Palermo moderated the meeting. He began with a brief synopsis of our history. He
introduced the members of the committee and described our process for generating the
draft recommendations. He invited members of the public to participate as if they were
members of the committee. Jim asked if there were any questions about our process.
There were none.
We then moved to our draft recommendations. The first recommendation is to develop
written protocols for public meetings. John Sinton asked if were satisfied with the
quality of responses from within the City. David answered by describing the process
and his satisfaction with the responses. Bob seconded this, saying that he thought our
in-reach process had been the most useful of our 3 information gathering efforts.
Jesse said that the outreach bullet point made good sense to him. Bob explained that
we had seen well developed systems in other cities to encourage this as a regular
practice. Daryl LaFleur wondered about the success of our consensus model and
wondered whether it could be more widely applied by City committees and board. Jim
said that he thought it worked well for an advisory committee but was not sure it could
be more widely applied. He thinks the courtesy and respect we demonstrated was a
good practice. Michael agreed. Ken Mitchell wondered how we might ensure better
public participation in all public meetings. He argued that citizens should be able to
interact with City Councilors at their regular meetings. Jim Palermo, Michael Bardsley
and Alex Ghiselin all responded agreeing that this was a difficult problem for which we
had not found a simple solution. David pointed out that this is a problem the City
Council would have to address. Michael and Bob talked about the consensus model
and how it may have limited our ability to make more specific recommendations. Jesus
suggested that the clerk transcribe public comments as recorded and that the Council
reach out to them afterwards. Daryl suggested that we consider finding a way to let
citizens talk to the entire council. He also asked if the requirements for some decisions
were mandated by law. Bob explained that some planning decisions needed to be
made within a fixed number of days after the public hearing was closed. Diane
expressed a desire to be given a clear timeline for decisions early in the process.
The second recommendation is that the City do a better job of explaining its structure to
the public. Jesse had some doubts about whether an orientation would be useful. He
also suggested that City School allow citizens to attend individual sessions. Michael
said that he thought information about the open meeting law would be necessary for all
new City officials. Bob hopes that individual departments would also provide new
members with some introductory orientation. Regular orientation for new officials would
provide a good way to disseminate best practices.
The third recommendation it that the City assume an ongoing responsibility for
explaining the City budget in detail. Jesse said he thinks this is a good idea. Daryl
supported greater transparency in the City’s budget but acknowledged that this would
cost money. There was general support for making the budget more widely available
and providing snapshots of spending status during the year.
The fourth recommendation is to make the City’s web site more user friendly. Daryl
suggested that some departments have done a good job of this, but far more could be
done. The site could certainly be more interactive. Adam suggested that it would be
best if people did not have to go to City Hall to see new documents. Mary suggested
that adding a google search function would be helpful and easy. Diane suggested that
the contract information should suggest who to contact for various types of questions.
The fifth recommendation is to review/revise the process for appointments to City
Boards and Committees. Bob expressed his impression that it is sometimes difficult to
find qualified volunteers. Daryl suggested that “special municipal employees” were an
example of the need to balance the skills of our citizens with the small size of our City to
avoid conflicts of interest. Michael said he thought that if we did better outreach it would
be easier to find volunteers.
The sixth recommendation was for an independent outside review of the Office of
Planning and Development. John Sinton talked about having been a planner for many
years and participating in such reviews. His experience is that they can be contentious
and that the professionals would need to “be the adults.” He emphasized that the
process of drafting RFP’s need to be particularly transparent. Daryl suggested that the
Planning Department needs to be careful to avoid conflicts of interest which is difficult in
a small city. It is important to differentiate between policy and decision making. Ken
revisited the City’s decisions about the Educational Overlay District and the Kohlmorgen
The seventh recommendation is that the City create a vision/mission statement
supporting wide citizen engagement, ethical behavior and best practices. There was no
comment on this recommendation other than general support.
The eighth recommendation is that a standing committee be created to continue our
work. There was no comment on this recommendation other than general support.
The ninth recommendation is to review the City Council rules and procedures in the light
of our recommendations. This would provide another possible route for additional legal
advice beyond that provided by the Mayor’s appointee. The question was raised by
Daryl if we should have an in-house City solicitor. Bob pointed out that for this to work it
has to start with the City Council itself.
The 10th recommendation is that we undertake a comprehensive review of the City’s
charter. There was no comment on this other than general support.
The public was encouraged to attend the meeting of this committee at 6 PM on
Thursday at the DPW when we will discuss what we have heard tonight. The meeting
adjourned at 9 PM.
Here are pictures of public comments at the forum as written up by Best Practices Committee member Michael Bardsley (also available as an MS Word document):
Comments continue to be welcome at the Best Practices Suggestion Box.
Video: November 5 Best Practices Meeting; Media Coverage Wanted; Marathon Session on Tap for November 12
16min:30sec: Discussion of how to interest the Gazette in the
work of the Best Practices Committee… City Councilor Bob Reckman:
“They don’t have reporters to cover local stuff compared to what they
used to have.” Wendy Foxmyn: “They have not come the whole time we’ve
met [in 2008].”